We crave approval, but you already knew that. Conventional thinking would suggest we seek digital validation in the forms of Likes and Favorites because they signal that we’ve impressed people and raised our social status. But what anonymous apps such as Secret are highlighting is that we don’t always care if our name is attached to that approval. So why are we doing it just for the likes?
Are humans so deeply wired as tribe animals that we’ll happily take any external approval we can get, even if our name and the name of who compliments us stays hidden?
Do we feel a sense of community with fellow users of our anonymous apps that is strengthened by passing approval around?
Have we developed such a Pavlovian response to real-identity Likes and the presumption that they improve our status that we derive a placebo-esque satisfaction from anonymous ones devoid of that status bump?
Or has the age of mobile left us desperate for those distracting little buzzes from our pockets? Do we simply want a momentary respite from our lives that these alerts provide?
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“We fear rejection / prize attention / crave affection / dream, dream, dream of perfection”
Regardless, I feel that the desire for Likes borders on addiction, and as with addiction, it takes a stronger and stronger dose to give us our fix, or at least a unique one.
I’m not sure anonymous approval can keep us sated, though. Each Like blurs into the next. Whether from your best friend, a distant acquaintance, or a complete stranger, the Likes are stripped of their meta data differentiation. They become just a number, a generic push notification, an uncompelling “Someone liked your secret”. And that’s not quite doing it for me any more.
At first they brought a thrill, but with time my rational brain started to kick in and ask, “Why do I care?”
When I feel empty or lonely, anonymous Likes fill the hole and offer comfort. But when I feel steadfast in my identity and self-worth, when I feel comfortable with myself, I don’t need the external validation. I don’t have to play jester and entertain the crowd. I’m content having a thought and keeping it to myself.
Herein lies a great challenge for anonymous apps. Without the arc of emotional current that sparks when we know we’ve delighted a particular friend, can anonynous apps provide enough charge to keep us coming back?
Secret found that context made its app more relevant. Seeing a Secret from someone “<100 meters away” or “0.5 miles away” feels more intriguing than the same post from someone labeled “San Francisco, CA”. This context is what underpins Secret’s “anonymish” model. Perhaps similar context would make unnamed approval more gratifying.
Anonymous apps rely on the content we volunteer when we’re doing it for the Likes. If they can’t make those signals of support stay special, we may stop giving a damn.